So you can read my books

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Ghost of Samuel Clemens here.

That Rowling gal! Watching over Roland as he sleeps like a soggy log, having driven 300 miles, I read what she said to the question : "How can a writer get published today?"

Her answer? Lord, if she didn't have such pretty legs, I'd strangle her!

"Why, they should write something that the publishers wish to publish."

"You think?!"

That reporter might as well have asked a man hit by lightning how to predict the rain.

I was a reporter long before I was a writer, and a reporter learns : don't pay no mind to what they say, study on what they do.

So let's study on the 4 things that Rowling gal did write, ah, I mean right :

1.) Planning
This is by far the most underrated of the steps in the writing process. And in the final wash up it is absolutely the most important.

It was 1990 and Jo Rowling was on a train between Manchester and London. Harry literally strolled fully formed into her mind while she was gazing out the train window at a field full of cows. (I am too much a gentleman to use the line that occurs to me.)

She spent the next four hours (the train was delayed) imagining Harry, the world he inhabited, the friends and enemies he had there and the dangers and joys he may encounter there. She had nothing to write on so had to be content to play this all out in her imagination. By the time she got off the train in London, the central cast of characters were already cemented in her mind.

But did she go home and immediately begin scribbling a story with these characters?

No, she didn’t.

She spent five years, yes that’s right FIVE YEARS creating and developing every last detail of the wizarding world, including government and education systems, how the wizarding world stood shoulder to shoulder with the muggle world, and she devised a highly sophisticated system of magic that would eventually form the backbone of her own special brand of writing magic.

On top of this she sculpted out the entire story, planning the details and events of all the seven books, before she put pen to paper to begin writing the first.

Would you set sail on the seas without a compass? Well, children, writing is as rough a sea as I've traversed!

JK Rowling planned the Harry Potter series for five years before she put pen to paper on the first book She wrote the entire first book, and felt as though she were “carving it out of this mass of notes”.

All the planning was worth it. She was able to devote herself to the actual task of writing, knowing that all the story and character elements she needed were covered.

2.) Writing
When you are writing, you are just writing. You are not planning, you are not editing. You are writing. Once you have planned your story, it is time to sit down and write it.

JK Rowling planned the Harry Potter series for five years before she put pen to paper on the first book She wrote the entire first book, and felt as though she were “carving it out of this mass of notes”.

All the planning was worth it. She was able to devote herself to the actual task of writing, knowing that all the story and character elements she needed were covered. When you do that, children, the words just flow.

3.) Rewriting

Jo Rowling rewrote the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a total of 15 times.

Her mother died just 6 months after her first attempt at Chapter One of that book, and that sent her into a frenzy of rewriting, essentially changing everything.

The Potter books are about death, there is no doubt about that, and they are driven particularly by the death of Harry’s parents and his miraculous survival.

When Jo Rowling experienced such a major turning point in her own life, she rewrote the story to reflect and process her own pain.

Ernest Hemingway keeps telling me that you only write to rewrite. DH Lawrence even said that he wrote his entire first draft, threw it away and then started again from scratch.

4.) Editing

Editing is the process of refining and polishing your manuscript. This part of the process may be done by you, or by a professional editor. It is often wise to have an editor look over your work before submitting it for publication as it is extremely difficult to get the distance you need from your own work to see where it can be improved.

Writing a book is a process, never forget that, fellow dreamers. Each step in the process is unique but necessary. Don’t mix 'em, and certainly don’t attempt to skip any steps. Do that at your own peril.

J K Rowling, bless her heart, meant well with that reporter. But before you attempt your next novel, don't listen to the little lady. Follow the four steps she took in her own writing process:

planning, writing, rewriting and editing, and be sure you give each step its due.

Who knows? The lightning may strike you!
Oh, children, this here is a movie so bad, even a ghost like me laughed til tears came to my eyes. But my humor always was a tad on the cruel side :


  1. Hi Roland .. JKR was well organised wasn't she .. I remember seeing a couple of snippets of tv (that modern thing - before the internet!) .. where she showed books, notes, more note books etc etc .. as you've shown here - she was very well planned. Didn't it pay off ... Love the photo at the beginning .. cheers and hope you can have a comfortable A/C weekend .. Hilary

  2. Whoa. I didn't know she took five years before she even started writing the novels. This was very interesting!

  3. I've never been that much of a planner but it certainly worked for her!

  4. After a false start I had to go back and plan. Now I'm about 2/3 through my first novel/draft and the book keeps changing itself! Like it has a mind of it's own. I have a LOT of rewriting to do. Thanks for reminding me about what HAS to be done. You're right, you can't skip any steps.

  5.'s about planning, and once finished, it's about editing and those painful re-writes.

    It's about patience. Taking your time to get it right. Read the story out loud. Read it until you hate it, for that's when it's ready for the world to see.

    Well done, Roland, as always.


  6. EL's right...

    Patience and rewrites....

    They had a lifetime movie about her. She had a fascinating life. Did you see it?

  7. Hilary :
    I looked a long time for what I felt was a great picture of JK. Still between apartments and bouts of heat! Rats.

    Alleged Author :
    I felt the same as you. But I wager the 5 years was because Life kept intruding!

    Wendy :
    You strike me as an organized doer. But 5 years does seem a bit too long for impatient me! LOL.

    Lady Gwen :
    I wish you luck and success in your novel. Planning is fun for me, threading all those plot threads into place.

    Elliot :
    You're so right. The whole process can't be rushed. Oh, it can but the novel suffers/.

    Michael :
    I don't have cable. I wish I had seen that movie. Sometimes my own life feels like a movie! LOL.

  8. After struggling through my first memoir, I'm convinced that Planning is crucial. Five years IS a long time, but look what that preparation did for J.K. Rowling. So I'm 76 when I get my next book published. Everyone keeps telling me that's still young. Okay. I think I've talked myself into believing it!

    Thanks for this fascinating post about how J.K. worked through her ideas. I've read some of this in the past, but I forget easily. This brought it back, and reminded me of important elements in the writing process.

    Hope you're having a good weekend!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

  9. Great post, Roland, and JKR definitely spent a lot of time working on the series before she wrote them. I also found it amazing that she was able to do all of this while having struggles of her own with money, work, and etc.

    I've spent a lot of time on Cursed with Power. I love the idea of being able to get out there one day and be my own person; have a voice of my own to share with the world.

    Have a good weekend.


  10. Thanks, Jai :
    Good seeing you here. Being exiled from my apartment and its internet access is a pain!

    Ann :
    Ronald Reagan was President of the United States in his 70's! We can do more than we think we can. Thank you so much for visiting!

    Lindsey :
    I pray you have great success with CURSED WITH POWER. When it is finished, come do an interview with me at Meilori's. It'll be safe and fun. Well, at least it will be fun, Roland

  11. Hi,

    An amusing read in more ways than one, because in a very early interview Ms Rowling, as she was then, said she'd gone through an unhappy breakup and as a single mum life became a little difficult. But anyway, one day she popped into a Manchester cafe for a cup of coffee. Whilst sat there, looking out on a rain sodden street the idea of Harry Potter came to her in a flash of inspiration. She took a notebook out of her bag and wrote some NOTES i.e, names of characters and basic plotline. Her words a year later: she was down on her luck, had just lost her job, had written the novel (perhaps why she lost her job) and sent it to Bloomesbury Publishing. The rest is history, so to speak. But, it's not the first discrepancy in how Harry Potter came into being, nor how long it took to write the book.

    One year to write HP, two years to write HP, now it seems it was five years. How long it took is irrelevant, what matters is the story that best sells the book, and that happens to be the so-called "train journey" because the book revolves around a magical station platform in London! ;)

    Good books, but all similar to fantasy books written by other authors before Ms Rowling was born.


  12. Francine :
    William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway were "flexible" in their memoirs and their accounts of certain incidents in their early lives.

    But I am not going to be the one to tell the ghost of Samuel Clemens he is incorrect! LOL.

    But Planning is important. Still planning excessively can just be a way of stalling to write, to actually put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, right?

    Thanks so much for visiting while I am in exile. It means a lot, Roland

  13. You have a fabulous blog! I want to award you the Enchanting Entertainer Blog Award for all the hard work you do!

    Go to and pick up your award.

  14. I LOVE the planning process - when a project holds so much potential. Not sure about spending years planning though!

    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

  15. Planning certainly worked for JK and it would make our work stronger if we spent a bit more time at this juncture. Her hard work certainly paid off. The way she used her emotions following her mother's death would have added so much tto that chapter. No need to be afraid of rewrites is the thing.